Mastering Destruction in Houdini

An 8-week course on creating feature-film-quality destruction effects for film

Course overview Course overview

Course Overview

Use Houdini and create amazing effects for film

In addition to teaching you in-depth technical working knowledge of Houdini fractures & rigid body simulations, this course will demonstrate highly effective production-proven techniques for getting beautiful work done quickly. On the job, it is of the utmost importance that your work be highly directable and controllable, so the lessons will focus on workflows that allow you to address notes quickly and accurately. By the end of the class you will have a feature-film-quality destruction shot for your demo reel! *NOTE: Live Q&A sessions will explore the new destruction-related developments in Houdini 17


Course Format:   Standard
Lecture Type:   Pre-recorded
Feedback:   Individual recordings
Duration:   8 weeks
Assignment:   Due each week. Expect to spend 10-15 hours per work, this is dedicated to viewing lecture videos, participating in q&a's, and time to work on assignments.
Q&A:   Once a week. Live Q&A sessions will explore the new destruction-related developments in Houdini 17.
Materials:   We will be using Houdini 17 (and going over Houdini 17 in live q&a's), and the Apprentice version is available as a free download from the Side Effects site. We will also be using Maya (there is a free Educational License available from Autodesk).
Skills level:   Intermediate
Prerequisites:   Basic working knowledge in Houdini or equivalent | Course Prereq: Intro to FX Using Houdini

Environment design WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

What you'll learn

The more you know, the better.

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Over the course of the entire 8 weeks, we'll be building upon the same scene, adding layers of complexity and realism with every step. For the first week we'll discuss fracturing our 3d geometry to achieve realistic results. We'll start with voronoi and boolean fracturing basics, how to prep assets for fracturing, and how to debug some common fracture problems.
We will explore cutter generation techniques to create realistic boolean fractures. We'll also build custom tools in Houdini, called HDAs, to streamline our fracturing workflow. Building useful HDAs can make you an extra valuable part of an FX team, so it's a handy skill to have! We'll also take a look at secondary fractures and add more realistic detail to our glass fracture. As a bonus, this week also includes an interesting demo for an art-directable vornoi fracturing technique. Students are not expected to use it for the course, but can feel free to experiment with it.
For this session, we'll start with the benefits & usage of packed primitives, and art direct the various damage areas of the geometry. We'll also discuss manually sculpted damage techniques and use SOP solvers to create non-simulated destruction animation. These non-simulated techniques are some of the most useful techniques for artistically crafting destruction quickly in a production environment! As a bonus, you will also learn how to use cloth simulations to drive fracture damage, and both Maya nCloth & Houdini cloth setups are presented. Students are not expected to use this technique for the coursework but can feel free to experiment with it.
Now that we've fractured our geometry and designed some non-simulated damage, we can finally start running our rigid body simulations using Houdini's Bullet solver! We will discuss the simulation setup and parameters in detail, various options for controlling velocity/activation/etc., and the artistic approach for the first pass at RBD simulation. We will also go over the most efficient & flexible workflow for caching your simulations.
This week you'll learn how to set up constraints to control our simulations. We'll start with Glue & Spring constraints, learn how to change constraint properties mid-simulation, and discuss various techniques for breaking constraints in an art-directable fashion.
Once we've developed a nice primary rigid body destruction simulation, it's time to add the finer details. We'll look at emitting dust and debris from the RBD sim and go over both particle-based & RBD-based options for the secondary debris emission.
You’ll learn how to set up deformable FX using rigid body proxy objects and hard constraints. We'll use this technique to add simulated bundles of cables to our main destruction shot. In a final & finished shot, only a portion of the detail that you see on screen is simulated. Some of that geometric detail is added as a post-simulation process. We'll look at real-world reference and add procedural rebar construction detail to our scene.
For the final week, we'll construct a wide shot of the tower and set up a full-building collapse. We prepare the full building for fracture, apply a dense fracture to it, and then build/refine a constraint-clumping setup. We will also add explosion sources within the building, and use some custom VEX code to drive/control the simulation behavior.

Unleashing your creativity

Lectures by Keith Kamholz

Keith Kamholz is a Lead FX Technical Director at DNEG, and he has previously worked at Industrial Light & Magic, Blue Sky Studios, Tippett Studio, and Framestore NY. He's worked on more than 15 feature films, with credit highlights including Pacific Rim: Uprising, Venom, Jurassic World, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, & Ice Age: Continental Drift. Keith has also presented some of his destruction techniques at SIGGRAPH 2018, courtesy of SideFX. He earned a dual-major B.A. in Computer Science & Media Study at SUNY Buffalo, and an M.S. in Digital Imaging and Design at NYU's CADA.


January 28th!

winter TERM Registration

Nov 5, 2019 - Feb 1, 2019




January 28th!

Pricing & Schedule

Even though our courses are the most affordable for the quality of education.

These Finance Options allow you to focus on your goals instead of the barriers that keep you from reaching them.

Employer Reimbursement

Animation Guild CSATTF

Payment Plan

Companies that hire our students

  • Naughty Dog
  • Luma Pictures
  • Google
  • EA Games
  • DreamWorks Animation
  • Blizzard Entertainment

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